Stranger in a strange land

Damn it, I have something in my eye.

Anthropology Professor Jack Weatherford Honored in Mongolia

Q: You and your wife, Walker Weatherford, spend your summers in Mongolia. What makes Mongolia so special to you both?

A: Walker and I are now legal residents of Mongolia and spend five months a year in our home there. I have learned more from seeing how the Mongolians deal with Walker, who has multiple sclerosis, than from all the books I’ve read. She is in a wheelchair, mostly paralyzed, and barely able to speak. Of course, in Mongolia there are no special facilities for disabled people; the streets and sidewalks are a jumble of broken cement and open holes. Yet when we step out of our building, hands always appear. No one says, “May I help you?” They simply do it and disappear, expecting no thanks. I never have to ask for help. Every week a few musicians come by to play the horse-head fiddle and sing for Walker, in the belief that music is the best medicine. Pop singers and hip-hop groups have come for the same purpose, saying that it will keep our home warm. One singer who spoke no English learned to sing “Only You” by The Platters because it’s a song Walker loves. People from all over the countryside send us dairy products. Our kitchen is usually full of yoghurt, hard cream, curds, mare’s milk, mutton, horse ribs, and wild berries. Lamas, shamans, and healers come by to offer prayers, incense, herbal teas, chants, massage, and other forms of traditional treatments. Even strangers send camel wool or cashmere blankets, shawls, and socks to keep Walker warm. Mongolia has welcomed us with a care and warmth I can scarcely comprehend. The greatest honor for the two of us is not any official recognition but these daily acts of concern, along with the young parents who have asked us to name their newborn children. Their request illustrates how much they want to keep the connection with their past and pass it on to their children. I feel that through these children whom we have named, Walker and I will be a part of Mongolia for another generation, long after we are gone.

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